The summer of 1967 that Boyd and I spent in Ninnekah, Oklahoma, with Grandmother and Granddad was an educational one. Every evening we accompanied Granddad to feed the hogs. The only pig that I was familiar with before meeting Granddad’s pigs was the literary pig, Wilbur, in Charlotte’s Web. I loved Wilbur but I did not feel loving toward the live hogs. I was a little afraid of them. Unlike Wilbur, they were huge, gulped slop in an unmannerly way, and grunted ominously. Granddad cautioned me when my curiosity led me to observe them too closely. He was obviously fond and proud of his pigs because he was generous with their food and water, and was fluent in pig language. It was fun to hear Granddad holler “soo-ee, soo-ee, soo-ee!” as we approached their trough with heavy buckets of slop.
While Granddad taught us how to care for pigs that would one day become bacon and ham, Grandmother educated us about how to turn a live chicken into a fried chicken dinner. Boyd and I were the suprised, and yet interested, witnesses to the chicken losing its head, as described here. Grandmother wasted no time in hauling the bloody bird to the kitchen. We followed to see what would happen next.
Grandmother hung the chicken up by its feet to drain the blood. A little while later, she dunked it in a pot of boiling water. At that point, the nasty smell of scalded feathers prompted Boyd to skedaddle outdoors.
The scalded chicken was given to me to pluck. I was pleased that the large feathers came out by the handful. I informed Grandmother when I was finished with the task but she pointed out that the smaller pinfeathers needed to be pulled out too. Plucking pinfeathers was tedious work, and there seemed to be an endless supply of them. After what seemed a very long time, I turned the chicken over to Grandmother. I had lost interest in chicken of any kind, and went in search of Boyd. Mom told me that the next step that I missed would have been holding the chicken over a flame to singe off the fine hairs.
My interest in chicken revived by the time Grandmother called us to supper. Piled high on a platter, in all its hot, crispy glory, was the chicken. I don’t recall everything on the table but I remember a large bowl of mashed potatoes, a plate of sliced tomatoes from the garden, and a pitcher of sweet tea.
I remember that first bit of chicken. I also remember the second bite, and the third, because each mouthful held a fair amount of crisply fried pinfeathers. Half-heartedly, I finished the first piece, and selected another only to be disappointed by more pinfeathers. For the second time that day I had lost interest in chicken.
I watched Grandmother eat her chicken without giving a hint that she was eating pinfeathers. One of my aunts casually asked who helped with the chicken, and Grandmother merely nodded in my direction. No other comments were made.
For the remainder of the evening I pondered chicken—headless, bloody, scalded—and all the work required to bring a piece of fried chicken to the table. Later I learned that the trick to plucking pinfeathers is to work fast before the skin tightens up, making them almost impossible to remove. I am sure that Grandmother was aware that my plodding, laborious plucking would yield less than satisfactory results, and yet she allowed me to help anyway.
That summer Grandmother made all my back-to-school dresses, eight or ten of them. I had never started school with so many new dresses. Yes, I learned a lot during the summer that I spent in Ninnekah. I learned that Grandmother and Granddad loved me.